Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

Time ‘Thwaites’ for no one: the story behind Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica

A headline in the May 17 issue of Rolling Stone magazine called it ”The Doomsday Glacier,” over a byline by climate beat reporter Jeff Goodell and his 2,500-word longform article about Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.

The subheadline doesn’t mince words either: “In the farthest reaches of Antarctica, a nightmare scenario of crumbling ice — and rapidly rising seas — could spell disaster for a warming planet.”

This was back in May of 2017, almost two years ago, and this spring a major scientific expedition funded by British and American govenments and supported by a team of over 50 scientists, reporters, and staff aboard a solidly-built research ship have been cruisiing in waters close to the gigantic glacier, stuyding it for clues to what the future might hold for the prospects of runaway global warming within the next 30 generations of humankind.

There have been over 100 media reports about the 50-day expedition, both before and during and after, and not one newspaper or magazine report bothered to explain why the glacier is named Thwaites or who is named for.

Well. you came to the right place, because this blog right now will explain to readers worldwide for the first time that the glacier was named for the American geologist Fredrik Thwaites (1883-1961) whose British grandfather emigrated with his wife to Boston in 1850.

So now you know: the Doomsday Glacier was named for an American college professor in Wisconsin who carried British ancestry and a surname minted in England. There’s even a famous Thwaites Brewery in the UK that is known far and wide for the suds it sells, but that beer palance has nothing to do with the glacier.

There’s more, but first read this quote from Ohio State University glaciologist Ian Howat who told the Rolling Stone reporter in the above-mentioned article in 2017: “If there is going to be a climate catastrophe, it’s probably going to start at Thwaites.”

So yes, the Thwaites, and the name itself, at this point in time, is one of the most famous surnames in the Anthropocene Era.

Why?

Because scientists from several nations are right now studying and researching Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, as hundreds of news accounts confirm.

Let’s now meet the late American Professor Fredrik Turville Thwaites for whom the glacier was named for:

He was born in 1883 in America and passed away in 1961. His paternal grandparents Mr and Mrs Thwaites were born in England and emigrated to the USA by ship in 1850, first to Boston and then moving on later to Wisconsin. So the surname Thwaites can reliably be said to be a British surname, as several people named Thwaites in Britain, Australia and America can confirm.

Professor Thwaites was only son of the Anerican historian Reuben Gold Thwaites and his wife Jessie Turville Thwaites. The Thwaites glacier was named by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (ACAN) after Thwaites, who was a glacial geologist, a geomorphologist and a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

A friend of mine, a reporter who teaches creative nonfiction at Brown University in Rhode Island was aboard the government-funded research ship plying the icy waters around the Thwaites, and she, along with 50 climate change scientists on the expedition was able from time to time to tweet from their ship cabins and work spaces about this scientific adventure of a lifetime.

More than adventure. A very important expedition that will hopefully shed light on the future of humankind within the next 30 generations of man, that is to say, the next 500 years or so — if indeed humanity is fated to exist that long.

Most likely we humans will continue on this Earth, our home planet, on and on, for much longer than 500 years. Then again, there are some alarmist voices online and on TV saying our days are numbered, from 12 years to 100 years to 300 years or so.

Me,. I take the long view and see humans living on for another 1,000 years and more. Color me ”eternal optimist.”

By the way, if you want to learn more, there’s even a hashtag for the Thwaites expedition in Antarctica, three in fact  — #Thwaites and #TheThwaites and #ThwaitesGlacier — and it’s possible for people around the world to follow the scientists and reports on board the research vessel as it navigates the frigid waters near the imposing glacier. Go and take a look. Just go to Twitter and click on either of the three hashtags above, and you will be able to see photos and videos taken by expedition members and the reporters and environmental writers accompanying them.

About the Author
Danny Bloom is editor of The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net. Danny graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Yiddish Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan, he has lived and worked in 14 countries and speaks French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live until 2032, when his tombstone will read "I came, I saw, I ate cho-dofu."
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